With today’s church management software and technology systems, churches can track and utilize data for ministry to a degree not enjoyed by churches at any other time in history. The modern church’s ability to collect, retain, organize, and utilize member and ministry data provides endless ministry opportunities; nevertheless, in our work, we find that most churches are missing out on this opportunity.
How Can Data Help You Minister More Effectively?
Thoughtful and intentional data tracking and reporting can help church staff connect more meaningfully with ministry participants. How well are you leveraging your data to find ministry opportunities? Utilizing your data effectively:
Can help you remember the relevant personal details about people at crucial moments.
Can keep people from “falling through the cracks” and leaving the church unnecessarily.
Can help us discern when to make an extra effort with someone who needs special care and support.
Can help identify who may be going through a period of change or difficulty.
Can help you recognize those at risk of feeling unseen and uncared for.
Can play a vital role in how you follow up with a new guest by knowing who to best connect them with based on neighborhoods, ages of their children, what school they attend, etc.
Can provide insight into specific ministry opportunities (Such information as attendance, first-time visits, baptism dates, volunteer signups, discipleship, giving patterns, milestone events, key relationships, etc. can be very helpful.)
But Churches Have Always Utilized Data; What’s Different Now?
Certainly, technology provides powerful ministry capabilities, but the concept of leveraging data is not new. Church staff and members have always relied on personalized data to enhance ministry; they just haven’t enjoyed modern technology’s breadth of capabilities. Let me give you an example.
My mom is the definition of a people person. She knows everyone. If you stand with her on an elevator, it won’t take the whole ride before she finds a connection with you. Growing up, my mom kept a green leather address book by the kitchen phone. It had all the people, addresses, phone numbers, and birthdays of all the people she connected with through the years–and it was a mess. Frequently referenced pages got dirty. The entry pages were filled with old crossed-out information and had arrows pointing to what was correct. It might take some effort, but she could find what she needed in that book. One thing I know for sure – if she hadn’t had the little green book, she would have made fewer calls and sent fewer cards. She wouldn’t have been able to care for so many people as well as she did. She used all this data to minister more broadly, personally, and effectively.
But there was a downside to her green book. Not everyone had a copy of it! And what she knew about people and ministry was not available to others who interacted with many of the same people she did. And her ability to use her “data” was somewhat limited by the “features” contained in and the capacity of the address book.
So, how do we scale from the “little green book” to knowing and caring for people across a church? How else can we leverage data to identify ministry opportunities? This is where the ChMS comes into play. At its core, a ChMS is just a much more powerful, convenient, and better-organized “little green book by the phone.” The information in our ChMS systems can help us better care for people. In the rest of this article, we will provide some practical thoughts and questions that may give you some ideas about how to use your different kinds of data to minister more effectively. Some churches may discover that they are missing out on significant opportunities right before them.
Properly Utilized Data Can Make Things More Personal
We know kids’ eyes light up when they get a card in the mail addressed to them. They feel seen and loved and special. So, could your children’s staff set up a weekly report to send a list of all the week’s birthdays so they can send cards? Adults appreciate when they connect with leaders and pastors in the church. Can you use the data in your systems to help clergy, staff members, and leaders reach out to members and guests intentionally? Do you track what school your students attend? If a significant event or crisis occurred at one of your local schools, could you quickly start calling and supporting church families directly affected? Keeping this up to date can be challenging, but some systems will allow you to update a profile field whenever people register for groups and events.
How Can Attendance Data Be Helpful?
All churches attempt to track who is coming through their doors. But what about who is not coming? Do you have a process and accurate data to determine that? Would you notice if someone who attends consistently every week suddenly misses three weeks in a row? It could be a sign that someone is sick or something has changed. At the very least, the person will feel seen and supported when you call to check in on them. Of course, outreach cannot and should not be fully automated. But this kind of “non-attendance” or ‘interrupted-attendance” data can identify people who may be disengaging. But it may also reveal that they have been on stage playing in the band for those weeks instead of checking into Sunday school like normal.
A great best practice is to use automation and reports to put a task on the task list of the right staff member, leader, or volunteer so that they can reinforce the relationship before the awkward conversation in the grocery store after someone has already started attending another church.
Does Your Data Help You Understand Your Members’ Engagement Level and Growth?
Many churches desire to track the significant engagement milestones from first-time guests to fully engaged members. Is there a place where people tend to stagnate on this journey? Could additional resources or pastoral care help move people past a common sticking point? Some systems can help you identify typical timeframes from step to step, then identify people who seem stuck in one phase.
Does Your ChMS Help You Understand the Actual Demographic Data of Your Members and Guests?
In large, dynamic churches, your attenders’ and members’ exact demographic makeup is not always obvious. Accurate data can sometimes explain why “tried and true” approaches are no longer working. Determining the makeup of your body regularly is essential. Who is coming in the door? Young professionals? Families? A significant senior population? How can you build a community or provide resources for these specific folks? Adjusting your ministry processes to get accurate information about your people into your ChMS will make it much more helpful.
Remembering Important Dates is Difficult but Very Powerful
Most churches attempt to track birthdays and baptism dates, but how about tracking the date of a spouse’s or child’s passing, so you can send a card or reach out in some other way? Some systems have automated tasks for “deceased persons” that update the deceased members’ and their survivors’ relationships, contact information, and group memberships. This update helps ensure that you’ll honor them and their loved ones by remembering and not sending emails to the one who has passed.
In What Ways Can Financial and Giving Data Be Helpful?
ChMS allows churches to easily track contributions, amounts, the identity of givers, etc. But properly configured ChMS and financial systems should also be able to spot trend analysis and changes in giving patterns at a church-wide and individual level. Changes in contributions are not just about the finances; they may also point to other personal or spiritual issues to address. Knowing this information can help pastors or staff lovingly reach out and see if there is a ministry opportunity. For example, if you notice that a consistent giver stops contributing but is still showing up, this could signal a job transition or other hardship. It could also point to some dissatisfaction with the church. Some donors give every week, while others give once a year. The capabilities are in the early phases, but some ChMS systems and third-party applications can help identify changes in a single individual’s patterns and help highlight contributors who are out of their norms.
Does Your System Allow You to Monitor Volunteer Engagement?
Your system should allow you to understand volunteer signup and departure trends. It should also provide insight into the activity of individual volunteers and church-wide volunteer patterns. If you have reliable volunteers who are stepping away, why? Is there a problem? Is there something in their life taking more of their time and energy? Do they feel unappreciated? Are they burned out?
Are they just experiencing regular season of life changes? Good data will help you spot situations that might otherwise escape you. Then, you can make appropriate changes if needed. You can also inquire and provide necessary support, relief, or care.
Why Don’t Churches Take Full Advantage of the Capabilities Readily Available?
After working with churches for the last 22 years, we believe there are two primary reasons people do not optimize their use of valuable ministry data. The first is philosophical, and the second is operational.
Philosophically, many pastors are concerned that tracking and incorporating data in ministry efforts is too “Big Brother” and represents an impersonal approach to ministry. They do not want people to view them as too business-oriented or “corporate.” However, when done effectively, precisely the opposite is true. We strongly believe that using data appropriately and effectively helps us to be more personal, not less.
The second reason most churches don’t take better advantage of their already existing data is mainly operational. To leverage data effectively, churches must intentionally design and align their ministry operations to achieve this goal. While the features of church management software are very powerful, they are only as helpful as the design and procedures the church puts into place.
Here are 4 helpful ways that you can begin to orient your procedures to get the most out of your ChMS:
An excellent starting point is to ensure you have consistent processes for entering data into the system and always keeping it up to date.
Determine how you can use consistent interactions with your members and guests (such as signing up for events, groups, opportunities, etc.) to review and update information such as addresses, relationships, and other demographics.
Train staff members and key leaders to update information and notes in “real-time” so that the database reflects reality.
Make a habit of turning essential, non-protected “individual knowledge” into knowledge shareable with staff and departments throughout the church.
Leveraging church data to enhance ministry is not about technology or business operations. It is about stewarding all of the resources the Lord has provided so that you can serve, minister to, and take care of people in ways and to the degree they deserve. We at Enable exist to Change Lives by Serving Those Who Serve. If we can help you utilize your data and technology resources more effectively to build the Kingdom and serve others, we would be delighted to assist you.
Written by: Melody Parlett, Managing Director